Bodhidharma once said:
In countless ages gone by, I’ve turned from the essential to the trivial and wandered through all manner of existence, often angry without cause and guilty of numberless transgressions. Now, though I do no wrong, I’m punished by my past. Neither gods nor men can foresee when an evil deed will bear its fruit. I accept it with an open heart and without complaint of injustice.
This was the advice that he gave his “students” when they encountered adversity in their training.
When I first entered into a Hagsaeng Naebu program, I took a copy of that quote and hung it in a place that I could read it everyday (or whenever I needed to). It is true that Bodhidharma directed the above advice to people following what would become the Zen Buddhist tradition, but it could just as easily have been given to anyone that has ever practiced a martial art.
As martial artists we also wonder through all manner of existences. We travel from the role of a student to the role of a master instructor. We start knowing nothing of our art (way). Eventually we end up knowing something but once we think we do, we in fact have traveled back to the beginning, because that which we think we know isn’t really that which can be known. We are constantly fighting ego and if we are not, the ego has already won. We experience emotions we didn’t even know we had: joy, happiness, sadness, anger, etc. One second we are bowing to someone that we are learning from, while the next second someone is bowing to us because we are teaching them. It is always a battle between the student and instructor within us and the instructor only wins when the student wins. The best way to tell a great instructor is to watch them as a student. If they are not a great student, they are not a great instructor. So many black belts lose sight of the fact that we are all still students and will always be. The moment we think we are not a student is the moment that we cease to be a martial artist.
As students we constantly face the challenges of being a student. A good instructor will put us in situations to test our resolve, to check our egos and to see if we truly can accept our training with an open heart and without complaint of injustice. Because if we can not, we fail as a student and as an instructor.
Tomorrow, I will ask the Hagsaeng Naebu students to do things that they will not like, I will have them repeat techniques to the point of complete exhaustion, I will test their resolve to be martial artists and I will utterly crush their egos. At the same time, I will be forced to do things I don’t like, I will have to repeat techniques to the point of complete exhaustion, my resolve to be a martial artist will be tested and hopefully my ego will be crushed. I, like the four students, enter this weekend as both the student and the instructor. Success will be determined by if we all leave as we started our training – as students, as beginners, as white belts.